Wednesday, January 9, 2013

(extract from my autobiography that I hope my children will read. It carries huge importance because obviously not only the events of war, but the many years after and being without my father for almost eleven years played a major role in my life and shaped my personality. Obviously. - I finished writing the last page not long ago - a huge undertaking with many years of study at the local university here.)

Allied bombing attacks, which began in 1942 and continued until just days before
Germany's surrender, reduced many German cities, like Dresden, Essen, Berlin,
Hamburg or Cologne, to nothing more than tons of rubble. Although the war was
over and the 12-year Nazi regime had come to an end, Germany was a country in
ruins. 95 percent of the houses were damaged or destroyed and there were huge piles
of rubble on the streets.

After Germany's capitulation my mother and I returned to our hometown, Essen,
and total devastation - never to be forgotten. I was barely six years old. There were no
roads and certainly no road signs visible but just a vast area of rubble and ruins.

Between 1945 and 1946, the Allied powers, both in Western and Eastern Germany
ordered all women between 15 and 50 years of age to participate in cleaning up.
I am proud that my mother was one of many socalled rubble women that had helped
rebuild the city by sitting on a pile of stones and hammering away at the mortar
and bricks for years and years until her fingers could not straighten out any longer.

Recruitment of women was especially useful because at that time, there were 7 million more women than men in Germany. The main work was to tear down
those parts of buildings that had survived the bombings. Usually, no heavy machinery was used, the main tools being picks and hand-winches. After tearing down the parts, they had to be broken into even smaller pieces, up to single bricks that could later be used in the rebuilding process.

Trümmerfrauen, or rubble women, both volunteers and regulars, worked in every weather condition. They were organized in ‘columns’ of ten to twenty people.

the women organized their survival with so called 'plunder journeys' by walking to farm houses only to be handed perhaps a piece of cabbage or a small nugget of butter and then sell it on the black market for whatever they needed more. They would gather nettles in fields to make a salad. They lined up in never ending long lines to be given a legal piece of bread or even meat.

Families would live in cramped quarters together with other people, very often in one single room. Any intimacy was impossible.

The walls would be papered with packing material and their coats were made from old uniforms, dresses would be turned inside out, the fabric re-died and mended and darned if necessary.

My mother was called a woman of the rubble....

She was one of thousands of women ordered to clean the mortar off the bricks from the ruins. She had to bring her own clothing, a shovel and a large ladle. She had to work in the middle of ruins, sitting on fallen walls or a heap of bricks and picking each one up, removing any mortar off it. I remember taking a small metal container to my mother and I was just a very little girl, no older than six or seven years. It was far for my little legs and unheard of in today's life but back in 1945 or 1946 it was survival. I cannot remember what my mother was wearing specifically, but I will never ever forget her sitting on top of a heap of stones with a hammer in her hand and when I arrived with her lunch pail, she would drop the hammer right there and climb down over the rubble. She was barely able to hold the spoon, her hands were painful and bleeding with strips of torn cloth wrapped around. She was one of many helping in the rebuilding of our home town, one that had been under the worst bombing and very few buildings were still standing.

Men had reduced the world of Germany to rubble but women were rebuilding it.

3 760,000 million men were dead and 12 million retained as prisoners of war. A lot of women had no idea if they were still wives or widows, but they grew tough and strong and realized that life goes on. When men returned after some years of absence they were met by a changed woman: strong and tough and able to manage any situation no matter what.

Price for cleaning the stones: 57 Pfennig (penny) per hour.

Women would stand in a chain and pass one brick to each other or buckets with rubble. It was necessary to uncover heavy iron girders or steel from the ruins of houses and recover any material that could be recycled for rebuilding.

Weather was of no significance, come rain or shine the mortar had to be removed and all with bare hands since no machinery was available. A dangerous undertaking to boot since some of the partially standing ruins could collapse any moment or a bomb could explode that was lying under all the rubble.

In return they would be given 400 g of fat per month (not per week) and daily 100 g of meat and half a kilo of bread that a lot of women had to share with their mother or children.

I was almost eleven years old when my father finally came home from his Russian captivity, the last returning prisoner of war together with six others. My mother always recalled how she threw the hammer into the air with jubilation, got up from her heap of rubble and walked away from it forever.

My father was coming home and she was never going to clean another brick. That was at the beginning of 1950. It had taken more than ten years to rebuild Germany.

The rest was given to building companies. Men were back and ready to take over.

And suddenly there was silence. There was no more bomb alarms during the night and the sweet smell of burning flesh of people and animals left under the rubble  was gradually dissipating. Peace was back.



DogArtist said...

I hope they read them! I remember these and am still impressed with the story. Done well. (and I love the font in the second page - in the middle!) Glad you posted this here Sabina :)

Sharon said...

Takes my breath away and makes my heart drop. I am in the midst of reading an historical novel about the women of Berlin during the war and was thinking about you the other day. Sabina, you have a wonderful way of stating the facts and personal emotions without being overly impassioned. I know, in you heart, you are, but you present your story with such character and dignity.

Congrats of finishing your huge project!

Leslie said...

What an amazing bit of history - yours and Germany's. I never heard of the rubble women in all my history reading. Fascinating. You lived in an interesting time.